I’ve been continuously questioning gendered qualities or associations that cross over in my work; the choice of materials and objects and the gendered qualities they become associated with. What is the tension between materials? What is the relationship between presence and absence in the work; and in the space the work is situated? How do I define femininity and masculinity in the work? I need to consider the works parodies and how it functions in relation to female sculpture and installation. Does the work convey an anatomical or anthropomorphic quality, aesthetic maybe? What’s crucial in my practice is the dialogue between materials; however I view space as a material in relation to my work. The material aesthetic and relationship that forms when producing the work has a sense of physicality and materiality. How can I produce the work to possess the quality instead of illustrating the quality?
My focus is to work with the foam and steel structures and to continue to explore the distortion and the extension of gender. I had previously addressed how the work had taken on an anthropomorphic nature; these qualities come to focus in my most recent exploration with foam and substance/fluid. Continuing to develop these forms and relationships between materials and questioning how the foam can convey the tension, gravity? The weight and depth of the foam forms suggest sacks of flesh, pieces of fat or perhaps an extension of human form. What’s interesting to consider is how sex can be read through materials. I attended Sarah Lucas in Conversation ‘Power in Woman’ on Tuesday evening at the Royal College of Surgeons, London; Lucas made it clear how she tends to work with what she’s got, what’s around at the time, recycled, reused and other basic materials. How can one put value on materials? Her work has a clear bodily and gender aesthetic; does gender have a binary quality? Can the work not be what it is? These are all interesting aspects that arose during the conversation but I realised how my work is purely about material, site, form and scale.
What arose yesterday whilst spending the day in the studio space at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff was how interaction and the physical nature of the materials and objects inhabited the space. There was a sense of a journey through the space; setting a scene, creating a dialogue between site, materials and artist. However the work was not on display (to the public) but purely placed for documentation and exploration of media. I need to consider placement; do I leave work in location over a period of time for people to stumble upon it? Does the work posses a theatrical aesthetic or quality?
There is an element of an unfinished quality; the use of the spot lamps, cables left in eye view and large tarpaulin sheets layed across the floor. Why are these objects left in a raw state? The foam forms were submerged in water, hung with meat hooks and left to sag, seep and drip onto the floor. Another element that comes into focus is the gushing sound of the drips onto the sheeting creating an uneasy, tense atmosphere surrounding the work. Working in a range of locations allows me to experience the work in new ways and challenge that dialogue between materials, objects and space.
I’m at that stage where the unpicking of my practice has begun and trying to piece it back together; in the hope of revealing those key concepts and focal points. After my tutorial with Davida on Wednesday, we discussed how there is too many materials being explored at one time. I need to focus on one or two materials and really push their boundaries, to understand their qualities and potential. The foam is a key material that I’m currently working with; suspending, hoisting, distorting its form and shape to create those bulging and flesh like qualities. The off yellow colour of the foam resembles flesh, fat or skin; a sack or limbs floating in midair. I’m exploring the idea of an extension and distortion of human form; however the forms have developed an anthropomorphic nature. There’s an inside/outside quality that addresses the work, how it suggests the absence/presence of the body.
So I started to soak the foam in water and let it hang from a butchers hook, watching the water seep through the fi and drip onto the floor. There was that quality of control and non-control over a material and my relationship with my making. Foam and substance; a performative object. The water gives weight and bulk to the foam; causing sagging and small movements of the foam swaying. Instantly I thought of how the body is made up of 90% of water and is a crucial fluid for survival. The sound of the water hitting the floor drop by drop from the foam is unnerving, but of comfort. The water forms that connection and link with other bodily fluids; sweat and urine. Referring back to working with less materials but focusing on their potential and aesthetic qualities; the foam forms are my focus over the next few week, challenging the contact with a fluid or substance. How will they suspend or hang? Do I develop a structure or a frame for them? Another element to consider is what space the work resides; an open space, dark or light space, industrial space, an outside space?
What continues to creep into my work is how my choice of materials and objects question gendered qualities or associations. Can a material have a gender? My focus is how I engage and develop a physical relationship with my work as a female artist. The scale, size and weight of the work are important; how it inhabits and engages with spaces. The work having/possessing that quality instead of ‘illustrating’ the quality. Recently I’ve been looking at artists Phyllida Barlow and Jessica Stockholder; how their work focuses on material and space. Both female artists and both working with a range of objects; the physical making, confidence to commit and own a space can be risk taking and a questionable decision by a female artist. However, this is an encouraging attribute and quality of these artists.
This week has been an empowering, engaging experience of discussion based around female artists or seminars led by female researchers. On Saturday I attended the symposium ‘Perspectives of a Female Artist-Women in focus programme’ at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The panel was led and chaired by Hilary Robinson and the artists included Eva Rothschild RA, Vanessa Jackson RA and Josie Cockram RA. The discussion was based on the extent to which being a female artist has influenced their work; also what it means to create work from a female perspective in today’s contemporary art world. The questions that were challenged: is the gender of an artist significant in the creative process? Does being a female artist influence how a work is created and perceived? How significant is the ‘female gaze’ in contemporary art – work that is presented from a female perspective or reflecting female attitudes…?
The initial point of interest was how we tend to self sensor and question in relation to making. It was interesting to hear Eva Rothschild’s perspective as a female sculptor who works on a large scale; how scale and material can be the result of confidence and the issues, conflicts of owning or occupying a space. Can I do this? Is this a gendered assumption? The issues that were pointed out is how certain materials will be judged in certain ways; gendered materials and how the making comes from a gendered position. I can relate to this with my practice; I tend to use materials or objects that are associated with a masculine aesthetic and have an industrial tendency. I am aware of this quality; however I engage with this gendered quality, how the physicality of the making and my relationship with my work in a space.
There will always be some form of critical and theoretical space when engaging with the work. Is there a certain value in the work as a female artist? They raised an important point about unpicking your practice and piecing it back together. As a sculptor, female maker; space and scale has become a pivotal focal element in my practice. How can my work define rather than occupy a space? The scale is something that the objects size is perceived in a space. Most recently I can see a shift and cross over between sculpture and installation in my work. Does female art become the object of surveillance? There is a struggle to re-socialise equality to women as a whole and the argument that work and life should not be seperated.
My use of materials and objects becomes the focal point for the work; distorting the association of feminine and masculine qualities and questioning gender as a whole. How can the sculptural forms inhabit a space? Another element that had not crossed my mind before was that space can be a material source. This material can reinforce the work. I’m currently working with form; human, bodily; an organic and raw aesthetic. Alexander Calder’s retrospective at Tate Modern allowed me to engage with sculpture in a completely different way; I began to understand the effect of how sculpture can inhabit space and engage with the floor, wall and ceiling. His use of lighting, shadows and colour was elegantly portrayed; resembling floating humanly forms.
I can’t help but read sculpture as physical subject matter and discipline. As a female artist I demand space and time but how can this be achieved and sustained? There is a different ‘myth making’ that surrounds female artists. We become somewheat exposed, taking a risk; I especially feel this is the case as a female sculptor. Working with large scale forms in an installation setting can be quite challenging and daring; there comes a time when you have to make bold decisions and commit to these decisions.
There seems to be a common thread that resides in my current work; how I engage with ‘ready mades’ that are of an industrial nature and using materials to create sculptural forms. I’m currently exploring the notion of space and site, challenging the work to see how it inhabits an environment. I can clearly identify an inside/outside aesthetic to the work due to how some forms resemble body parts, limbs or elements of the body in some way. The continuity and physical experience for both the artist and viewer is alluring. Is there a connection between human and landscape? What I’ve discovered recently is how weight plays an important role in the process of creating these installations. There is a shift between the use of the buoys, rope and the foam or hessian. My interest lies with the notion of control and non-control of the work. I manipulate certain ways the objects sit or reside and how the forms engage with one another; however I allow the work to breathe and accept their natural qualities. The work has a raw, a rough quality and nature on appearance.
The group tutorial yesterday was a fantastic opportunity to exhibit the work in the space that I had been working in for two days. What was interesting was how my piers and Mark commented and discussed work before asking what the work was about; this gave a new insight to how people understood the work. We discussed how the work came across as violent yet soft; the use of butcher’s hooks translates aggression and death. The foam forms have a much softer appearance, both of which were suspended with cord and large, thick rope. There is a clear distance between the works, yet still seems connected; this could be down to the use of space. What was an interesting comment from Mark Gubb was how the work reads as painterly. This raised the question of how exactly does the work read, is it sculpture, installation or even a painting? Can it be read as all three? Is there a narrative? Is the work connected? These are all questions that were raised and allowed me to think and analyse the work from both the perspective of the viewer and the artist.
What instantly came to the group’s attention was how clear the work read from a western sense of reading from left to right. However this isn’t an element that had crossed my mind. There’s that contrast of control and non-control tendency of the materials and fixing of the objects. What I had explored differently in this space was suspension of work and lighting. The arrangement of the work suggested a hostile quality and an uneasy sense of confinement in such an open space. The use of lighting created an alluring quality, however some felt that it disconnected the work. This was an interesting point to mention and a curious analysation. The element and quality that interests me is how the work reads as either or both masculine and feminine; the exploration of gender using stereotypical associated objects is a continuous point of contact in the work.